INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
A FARMING SIMULATION GAME
USING THIS DOCUMENT
• The Contents slide (next) links to the initial slide of
the various sections in the guide.
• Clicking the stage elements in the game flow chart
will navigate to slides providing more information.
• Each slide has buttons in the lower right hand corner
which navigate to the Contents and Flowchart slides.
Nutrition & Health
Game Flow User Interface
The life of a small scale sub-Saharan African farmer is
characterised by uncertainty.
The vagaries of weather, crop pests and other chance
events, coupled with unpredictability in market supplies
and prices create an environment in which decision-
making is complex and challenging.
The goal of the African Farmer Game is to give players
some sense of the experience of these farmers.
• The African Farmer Game is one element in a
• Educators can prime players on key issues in the pre-
• The post-game debriefing, where players’
experiences are explored and issues encountered in
the game discussed, is an essential part of the
• Follow-on work can link the players’ experience in the
game with the actual lived reality of small scale
African Farmer develops ideas from the educational
board games Green Revolution and Africulture.
• Green Revolution, developed in the 1970s by
Graham Chapman and Liz Dowler simulated the
experience of rice growers in Bihar.
• Exaction, which extended Green Revolution to
include international trade, was developed in the
1980s by Graham Chapman and Isabelle Tsakok.
• Africulture, which explored the dynamics of gender in
agricultural communities, was developed in the 1990s
by Graham Chapman, Janice Jiggins and Henk de
Players are given responsibility for a farming household
comprised of a number of adult, child and infant
Players must feed their household, educate their children
and manage a small farm. They can buy crops and other
goods at the market and trade goods and labour with
They must respond to crop hazards and other chance
events and provide their households with a balanced diet
from food they have grown or purchased at the market.
The game puts players in ‘realistic’ scenarios that
demand decision-making in the light of limited resources,
uncertain knowledge and chance events.
• The weather is not known until all the farming
decisions for a season have been made.
• Crop hazards are an ever-present possibility.
• Chance events (good and bad) may disrupt plans.
• Market prices may vary, depending on community
harvest yields and other factors.
• The possibility of illness and death increases for
individuals on poor diets.
Players must decide how to prioritise the various goals
set out in the game:
• Agricultural - successfully manage and develop the
• Educational - provide children with a good education.
• Social – foster co-operation, strengthen relationships
and increase social standing by helping neighbours.
• Financial – increase the net worth of the household by
farming or trading.
A balance must be struck which enables players to
achieve their chosen goals without taking undue risks
or jeopardising relationships with the community.
Single Player and multiplayer versions of African Farmer
are under development.
The multiplayer version is run by a game manager and
can be played by groups of up to 30 or more. It can give
participants a powerful collective learning experience.
The single player version provides individuals and
institutions a readily accessible version of the game. It
can be used by institutions where there are barriers to
the use of the multiplayer game or by individuals for
whom participation in a multiplayer game is problematic.
Note that there may be some variation in the features
supported by each version of the game.
• The multiplayer game is played by 12 - 30 players,
with each household managed by 1 - 3 players.
• Interaction with other households is through the
game’s communications panel or face-to-face if all
players are located in the same room.
• The game is run by a game manager using a
• The game manger controls game flow and runs the
market and bank.
• The game manager can monitor players’ progress
and has several “in-game” interventions available to
covertly help a household if it seems appropriate.
SINGLE PLAYER GAME
• In the single player game the player interacts with
computer agents that manage the other farming
• Interaction is via a simplified communications panel.
• The player moves the game forward by clicking an
advance button on the user interface.
• The market and bank are run by the computer.
• Various aspects of the game can be configured as
required e.g. supported crops, nutrition models, post-
harvest losses, climate change and help options.
African Farmer supports a number of stylised crops:
• Local maize – an inexpensive, low-yield variety.
• High-yield maize – can give high yields when used
• Drought tolerant maize – copes well with low rainfall.
• Beans – a good source of protein.
• Mixed Horticulture – a good source of vitamins, also a
• Cotton – a cash crop.
• Cassava and Sorghum – inexpensive sources of
Various inputs can be purchased at the market to
promote crop growth and treat crop hazards:
• Manure and NPK component fertilizers can be
• Pesticide, fungicide and agriphage can be used to
treat crop hazards.
• Herbicides can be used as an alternative to weeding.
• Crops planted in Early Rains typically produce higher
yields than late planted crops.
• Manure and NPK Fertilizers can be used to improve
• Hybrid crop varieties, when used with fertilizers can
give the highest yields.
• Poor rains or drought significantly reduce yields.
• Failure to weed fields can reduce yields by up to
• Crop pests reduce yields though the losses
can often be mitigated by spraying.
• Crop hazards may occur in Main Rains for early
planted crops and Early Harvest for late planted
• Crop hazards (e.g. bean rust, fusarium wilt) are crop-
• Players are warned of hazards by on-screen
messages and hazard icons on the affected fields.
• Information on the potential crop loss, possible
mitigation and mitigated loss is given in the farm
screen information panel.
• The farming year is divided into four seasons - Early
Rains, Main Rains, Early Harvest and Late Harvest.
• The calendar indicates the current year, season and
• Crops can be planted in Early Rains (early planting)
or Main Rains (late planting). This can help spread
the risks of adverse weather and pests and enable
players to better manage labour resources.
• The weather is announced at the end of each season.
• The calendar, located at the top of the screen,
displays icons showing the weather for past seasons
in the current cycle.
• Weather conditions include rains, poor rains, no rain
• The single player game includes a climate change
option which sets weather probabilities to reflect the
predicted effects of climate change, with an increased
possibility of prolonged periods of drought and the
occurrence of extreme weather.
• At the market players can buy and sell inputs, food
and other assets (e.g. spray kits, storage granaries).
Land can be bought, sold or leased. Labour and
animal traction is also available for hire.
• In the multiplayer game, market stocks and prices are
set by the game manager. In the single player game
market prices will vary with the communal harvest
• Chance events may also directly affect market prices
• Players can trade with other households – for cash,
goods or services or simply to strengthen social
• Households are given varying amounts of cash at the
start of the game.
• Players can apply for loans at the bank. In the
multiplayer game loan decisions are made by the
game manager. In the single player game loans are
granted on the basis of a credit check.
• Loan repayments, medical fees and funeral expenses
are repaid at the bank.
• In the multiplayer game, the game manger decides
what action to take if debts are not repaid on time. In
the single player game, assets are seized to recover
NUTRITION AND HEALTH
• Household members require a balanced diet of
protein, carbohydrate and vitamins to remain healthy.
• Persons given poor diets are more likely to become ill
and may die. Persons given very poor diets will die
• Persons who become ill cannot do any work and will
remain unwell until medical fees are paid.
• Persons who contract HIV incur medical expenses
• When a person dies, funeral expenses are incurred,
which increase with the age of the deceased.
• The quality of diet depends on both the quantity and
variety of selected foods.
• Male adults require the largest quantity of food to
remain healthy, women and children can survive on
• The best quality “A-Level” diet requires a good
quantity of food from sources that provide a balance
of protein, carbohydrate and vitamins.
• Anyone given a diet poorer than “C-level” will die from
• The single player game supports several nutrition
• In the multiplayer game, health hazards are
announced after food allocation. In the single player
game, health hazards may occur at any time.
• Persons on an A-level diet are not susceptible to
• Persons on an B-level diet have some risk of
• Persons on an C-level diet are at significant risk of
nutrition-related illness. Death is a possibility.
• In the single player game, all characters have a
chance of contracting HIV.
GAME FLOW (single player)
Births & Ageing
Early RainsPost-harvest Losses
GAME FLOW (multiplayer)
Births & Ageing
• The market is open for trading at any time, though
there is a formal trading session at the start of year 1.
• Players can choose to trade at the market or with
other households. The players themselves must
resolve any disagreements that arise in inter-
• Market prices can be volatile, so players must think
about when to buy and sell goods.
• Players allocate labour and resources for household
and farming tasks (see task list).
• Children older than five years can carry out one
domestic task or go to school.
• Adults can carry out two domestic or farming tasks.
• Manual weeding and field clearing/planting (without
animal traction) each require 2 tasks.
• Labour can be assigned to other households for
domestic chores or farm work.
• In Early Rains adults can be sent to town for the year.
Depending on their education level and luck, they
may return with saved earnings.
• Domestic tasks (cooking, fetching fuel & water) are
mandatory and must be carried out each season.
• Farming tasks are seasonal and include:
• Field clearing/crop planting (early & main rains)
• Manual Weeding (main rains & early harvest)
• Manuring (before or during planting)
• Fertilizing (in middle growth season)
• Spraying (main rains & early harvest)
• Harvesting (early & late harvest)
• Town Work (early rains - full year commitment)
• Crops not properly stored will suffer post-harvest
losses of around 30%.
• Granary stores can be purchased at the market to
protect players against these losses.
• Post-harvest losses are calculated at the end of Early
• After harvest, food must be allocated to household
• Players can create individual diets in the diet creation
screen by dragging food elements from the side panel
on to the plate.
• The food allocation screen allows players to allocate
diets or individual food portions to the household.
• The food allocation screen has selectable overview
and detail views to make the process easier.
BIRTHS & AGEING
• At the end of each cycle, all characters age by 1 year.
• Infants become children at age five and can take on
domestic chores or go to school.
• Children become young adults at 13 and can work in
• All healthy females over 13 years of age have the
possibility of having a child.
Chance Events that disrupt the normal seasonal rhythm
may occur at any time in the year. e.g.
• A traffic accident causing serious injury or death to a
• A household receiving a money order from a relative
working in town.
• A government subsidy reducing the market price of
hybrid crop seeds.
• A transport breakdown causing supply problems at
The user interface is built around the key aspects of the
• Household - where players check household assets
and health, manage nutrition and allocate tasks.
• Farm - here players monitor crops and allocate tasks.
• Village - where players gather information and trade
with other households.
• Market - the place to buy and sell goods & services.
• Bank - for loan applications and debt repayments.
There is also a statistics screen where players can
review the game when play has ended.
In the household screen, players can view the following
• Each member’s age, gender, health, location (if in
town or hospital)
• A list of deceased household members
• Household assets and debts
They can also access the customization screen for
naming household members and selecting avatars, the
task allocation screen and screens for managing
• In the Farm Screen players can monitor the health of
their crops and check for the occurrence of crop pests
and other crop hazards.
• Field icons indicate the occurrence of crop hazards
and the application of manure, NPK fertilizer and crop
• The information panel displays data on each field,
including weather, weed and hazard losses and also
gives the maximum projected crop yield.
• The village screen gives players an overview of all
households in the village.
• Public information on a household (e.g. household
and farm sizes, crops planted) can be seen by
clicking on the household’s hut.
• Players can commend or censure other players for
help given or refused.
• From here players can access the asset transfer
screen to transfer goods to other households as part
of a trade or loan agreement.
• The market screen is where players access the
market to buy and sell goods and services, check
market stocks and prices and review their assets.
• Radio buttons select market categories for display
(all, inputs, food, other).
• Clicking on an asset in the selection panel will give a
brief description of the product, display market buy
and sell prices and list current stocks.
• The bank screen gives players access to financial
• Clicking the pay button will display a list of
outstanding debts for payment.
• The loan button is used to apply for a loan. Several
loan amounts and terms are available for selection.
• Clicking the statement button displays the player’s
• The statistics screen, where players can review
statistical data from the game, is available in the
single player game.
• During the game, data on the player’s household
composition, assets and nutrition & health can be
viewed. Historical market price data and weather
records are also available.
• When the game is finished the statistical data for all
households is available for review.
• In the multiplayer game, communication is facilitated
by a dedicated panel in the lower part of the user
• Players can chat with any players in the same game
view. These conversations are public.
• Players can also privately phone or text other players.
• The Game Manager can broadcast messages to all
players via the news ticker at the bottom of the
• The single player game uses a simpler interface for
The single player game has an integrated help system
which includes the following features:
• Screen Help, which explains current screen functions,
is accessed by clicking the help button.
• Stage Help, which details the required player actions
for the current game stage, is accessed by clicking
the calendar stage display.
• Button mouseovers can display help text when the
cursor is moved over navigation or function buttons.
• Warnings can be displayed if a player attempts to
move to the next stage before essential tasks have
African Farmer is developed by a team from the
University of Sussex and Future Agricultures. Dr John
Thompson from the Institute of Development Studies is
the Project Coordinator; game development is being
carried out by Ellie Martin and Jim Jackson at the School
of Engineering and Informatics, University of Sussex,
under the leadership of Dr Judith Good.
The project is supported by the United Kingdom’s
Department for International Development through a
grant to the Future Agricultures Consortium, with
additional support from the United Kingdom Economic
and Social Research Council (ESRC) through a grant
to the STEPS Centre.
• African Farmer Game
• Future Agricultures Consortium
• Institute of Development Studies
• Informatics Department, University of Sussex
• STEPS Centre
• Department for International Development
• Economic and Social Research Council